At a sinewy six-foot-six with model-good looks ( and a French accent, to boot ) , Fabrice Calmels is used to turning heads. However, in the local dance world, Calmels is more renowned for his moves with The Joffrey Ballet, which he joined in 2002. He recently talked with Windy City Times about growing up in France, teaching danceand eating blue-cheese burgers.
Windy City Times: There are all sorts of attitudes regarding male dancers in this country. What is it like in France?
Fabrice Calmels: I think it's similar to what's here [ in the United States ] . We are all human beings, and things are identical. There's a different language, but it's about the same thing.
I was trained and raised in the Paris Opera [ School ] ; it was basically a boarding school that I attended for 10 years. Our training was really specific and really hard; it was an Army type of thing. We built friendships, [ the teachers ] trained us hardI think it's about the same thing.
WCT: I understand that you didn't choose dancingit chose you.
FC: Yes. At least that's what I believe; when you're three years old, you don't decide what you want to do for the rest of your life.
Circumstances led me to dance. It was during the Gulf War, and my parents had to work double-duty. We had someone to carry my sisterwho was taking ballet classes once or twice a weekand myself to school. There were [ only ] girls, and I just sat, watching. So the teacher said, 'Instead of sitting and watching, you're going to join us and dance! I'm going to make you my student.' [ Laughs ] It was great; I got a lot of attention and [ the teacher ] took really good care of me.
WCT: In a video interview, you said that [ former Joffrey Artistic Director ] Gerald [ Arpino ] was part of the reason you're in Joffrey. What did you mean by that?
FC: I got hired in 2001, but I got stuck in Paris; I couldn't get the paperwork to get into the countryJoffrey hired me the day before everything happened [ on Sept. 11, 2001 ] . Of course, at that point, Joffrey was stressed because [ the tragedy ] was really bad for business.
One day, I was in France working at The Lidoand I realized that I've got to go back to Chicago. I told my mother, and she was like, 'You're crazy! What are you doing?' [ Laughs ] I said, 'I'm going to Chicago and [ check out ] Joffrey; it's the company I want to be with.' I flew over [ here ] and Mr. Arpino was like, 'What are you doing here? Are you finally going to be with us?' He was really happy to see me and made it so that I was able to work with Joffrey. I owe him everything.
WCT: How have you grown since you've been here?
FC: A little bit before Joffrey, America gave me a lot. For 10 years in Paris, I was raised to be a classical ballet dancerthey build you to fit into a company with a specific repertoire. That's not what goes on here; it's modern and more open-minded. So when I came to the States, it was a totally different world. I feel more complete; I've learned so much since coming to the States. In Europe, the style is slower; here, it's really, really fast and explosive.
WCT: How big of an adjustment has it been since Ashley [ Wheater ] took over as artistic director?
FC: Ashley is the new director, and with a new director you have new vision. Ashley keeps Mr. Arpino's repertoire in place, but he wants to make his own mark, too. I think it's important to have something fresh; you don't want to keep going in the same [ direction ] , obviously. I've seen a change in how I've danced over the past two years.
WCT: You teach ballet as well, correct?
FC: Yes. The classes are for anyone who wants to learn ballet; I teach in French and English [ separately ] . I teach at Diversey and Western [ at Visceral Studio ] , and at Alliance Francaise de Chicago. I think there is a need to let people know how great balletand dance, in generalare.
WCT: When I talked with choreographer Randy Duncan about misconceptions about dancers, he said that the biggest one is that they eat very little. [ Calmels laughs. ] What do you think is the biggest misconception about dancers?
FC: He's got a good onebut you know what? There's one about me: height. When people see me on the subway, they always ask, 'Do you play ball?' A lot of people think that all ballet dancers are short. However, I do eat a lot.
WCT: I actually know you eat a lot, because I noticed while prepping for this interview that you gave a five-star rating to the blue-cheese burger at Cooper's [ a restaurant at 1232 W. Belmont ] .
FC: Yes! It has blue cheese, like the French! My best friend just bought it recently. You need a fork to finish the burger.
WCT: What's your advice to up-and-coming dancers?
FC: To be honest, I don't know. I'm 27 and there's still a way for me to go. I'm trying to see where things are going.
WCT: What does dance mean to you?
FC: Dancing is like ... when I dance, it's like a personal exile. It's a way to get away from the drama; you're taken away and you can finally breathe. It's peacefulit's a relief.
WCT: Was there anything you wanted to add?
FC: I'm building a company. I'll dance for three or four more years, max; I don't want to be selfish about ballet. I think the world needs ballet dancers, and there are a lot of them out there. The dance world is suffocating a lot because of technology; people are slowly leaving [ the dance world ] it's not government-funded, like in France. I'm looking for answers to help the dance world take control again. I want to help the dance world change; it won't be a dance company, but it'll involved dance.
For more about The Joffrey Ballet, see www.joffrey.com . For more about Fabrice Calmels ( including his classes ) , see www.fabricecalmels.com .